News 11 Oct 13

Bosnia’s Prijedor Urged to Allow Non-Serb Memorials

Human rights campaigners urged the mayor of Prijedor in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska to allow the building of memorials to Bosniaks and Croats killed during wartime.

Denis Dzidic

The International Centre for Transitional Justice, ICTJ, a US-based rights group, sent an open letter to Prijedor mayor Marko Pavic, asking him to publicly acknowledge Bosniak and Croat victims of wartime atrocities in the town which currently only has memorials to Serbs killed in the 1990s conflict.

The ICTJ called on Pavic to initiate the building of a memorial to victims in the town and at the nearby Omarska wartime Bosnian Serb detention camp.

Refik Hodzic, communications director for the ICTJ, told BIRN that Prijedor was important because of the horrendous crimes committed there and the continuing ethnic discrimination by the Pavic and the city administration.

“The letter is a clear expression of the outrage of experts and human rights activists from around the world at the continuation of this unacceptable situation,” Hodzic said.

The recent discovery of a mass grave in the Tomasica mines near Prijedor, which could contain the remains of dozens of Bosniak and Bosnian Croat civilians, was the trigger for the attempt to show Pavic that “things have to change, victims must be acknowledged and memorialized as they deserve”, Hodzic explained.

Along with the ICTJ’s president David Tolbert, the signatories of the letter include the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, the executive director of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience Elizabeth Silkes and other international human rights activists.

“The names of people from the list are a guarantee that this issue is not going away and mayor Pavic needs to understand that. The Prijedor victims are not alone, they have powerful friends across the globe and will win this struggle, rest assured,” said Hodzic.  

According to data from the ICTJ, during the first year of the Bosnian war, more than 3,000 Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats from Prijedor in the north-west of the country were killed or disappeared. Twenty years later, however, the Bosnian Serb local authorities are still preventing the building of memorials to non-Serb victims in the city.

“In your role as mayor, you have so far refused to allow a memorial for these victims to be built in Prijedor and you, personally, have stopped an initiative to build a memorial at the site of the Omarska detention camp,” the letter alleges.

“Further, while serving in this public capacity, you have targeted victims’ families and survivors for organising public events and using the word ‘genocide’ to describe what they experienced,” it says.

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